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DesignING Class


Building a Timeless House in an Instant Age, Part II

The birth of standardization

Our stop in Clinton wasn’t just about the changes in the millwork industry due to advances in technology. It was really a study of the consequences (often unseen) that resulted from leaps in technology. The technological leap that took place in Clinton, Iowa in 1870 was ultimately the result of the Industrial Revolution. Other leaps for homes occurred as power tools came on the job, and these leaps continue today as computer controlled machines (CNC) take over our shops and mills. It is a strange and ironic fact that an increased level of technology and the increase use of technology in building does not necessarily lead to higher quality or more beautiful homes. Read the full article…


Building a Timeless House in an Instant Age, Part I

The birth of the hammer

Our story begins in Chicago. Though the hammer was not invented here, it is where the current use of the hammer was born. Up until the early 1800s, if you were going to build a house or a building, you did so with large timbers that were cut and fitted together like a large, well-made chair. Using mortise and tenon joints, along with pegs, large timbers—6 or 8 in. across—were cut and fit together yielding a house of mass and strength. All houses and buildings of wood, pre-1830/40, were built with timbers; they were all timber-framed. Read the full article…


Greek Revival and Italianate Trim

Years ago, in a Fine Homebuilding article, I explained how to build corbels for an Italianate mirror frame. I ran out of pages in that short article before I could discuss how to layout the pediment. I have plenty of room here, so I’ll cover that part of the story, and I’ll include all the material that we couldn’t fit into the Fine Homebuilding Master Carpenter article. Read the full article…

The Magical Entablature

This article is a follow-up to “The Misused & Confused Chair Rail“, which I wrote for TiC a couple of years ago. It generated a lot of positive and negative feedback, and hopefully it challenged your ideas of how to use a chair rail. That article also led to many questions about other trim elements. One question that continues to come up concerns how to build mantels. Read the full article…


The Elegant Ellipse

From the early part of my career I’ve been dealing with a lot of curved work. The neighborhood I specialize in was built in the early 1900s, and many of the homes are graced with both simple and complex arches. When I started in the business, I relied on millwork shops whenever I needed to restore or remodel projects. But all that changed on one single job. Read the full article…

A three-centered arch is an elliptical approximation using three tangent arcs. (Click any image to enlarge.)

Circular Based Arches – Part 2: Three-Centered Arches

Two-centered and four-centered arches share something in common—a pointed peak. It’s not surprising that both are commonly found in Gothic and Gothic-inspired architecture. But a three-centered arch—sometimes called a ‘basket-handle arch’ or ‘Anse de panier’—closely resembles an ellipse, which puts it in a field of its own. Read the full article…


Circular-Based Arches – Part 1: One-Centered and Two-Centered Arches

I’ve toured a lot of historic homes and seen some extraordinary arches—door jambs, windows, passageways. In reading about historic architecture, especially Gothic and colonial styles, I’ve come across some beautiful arch work. But those once-common elements are not often incorporated into millwork today. Sure, sometimes the carpentry techniques are more difficult, and too costly, but the problem I’ve recognized is more one of design. Read the full article…

The Misused & Confused Chair Rail

How high should we install chair rail? Ask most carpenters and they’ll either say 36 in., 32 in. or they’ll measure the back of a chair and tell you to lay it out so the chair won’t scar the wall. Well, I’m sorry to say, that unless your ceilings are 16-ft. tall, 36 in. is way too high for the chair rail; and letting the back of the chair set the chair rail height is like letting the size of a rug decide the size of a room. In most cases, it just doesn’t work! Read the full article…

Glass Elegance

The Art of Etching Glass with Sand

What’s a story on etched glass doing in a carpentry magazine? Good question. I don’t know the exact answer. All I know is that every aspect of construction interests me, and when I met Donna Burrows and visited her studio, I knew that other readers would be interested in seeing what I saw. Maybe it’s something about craftsmanship. Read the full article…

Homemade MiterTite Joinery

This is a follow-up to the Curtis Mitertite article by Dave Parker, and an attempt to answer the question about the feasibility of making this joint in the field. I previously posted some comments to Dave’s article and uploaded some photos of a prototype jig that I made with the resulting joint. This is a more detailed account of what I think a setup should be, taking into account the problems encountered with the prototype, and also addressing the need for different size casings. Read the full article…

The Curtis Mitertite

Have you ever said to yourself, “How’d they do that??” I have. Lots of times. And when I found a mysterious casing on a recent job, I said it again. This time, though, it took a little longer than a day or two to figure out how they did it.

I was in the midst of trimming out a recent remodel when one of the guys described a miter joint he’d noticed while doing the demo work. What he described sounded more like a Japanese temple building joint than the conventional miter joint found in your typical American house. I was intrigued. When he found a sample of the joint and showed it to me, I was amazed. Read the full article…

An Introduction to SketchUp for Finish Carpenters

It works the way a carpenter thinks.

If you are tired of working out trim details on a scrap of wood or making shop drawings with graph paper and a ruler, SketchUp is your answer. Unlike most computer-aided design programs you may have tried, SketchUp is very intuitive and works the way a carpenter thinks.

SketchUp has a simple set of tools that you can use to create anything from a rough mock-up to a very detailed drawing with 1/64″ precision. How much detail you want is up to you. The ability to convey your ideas to customers quickly and to produce working shop drawings is what SketchUp can do for you. Are you intrigued? What if I told you that it’s FREE! Read the full article…

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